When I think back on my own upbringing, I thank my lucky stars that I grew up in the country on a farm. The older I got, the more I knew how much work living on a farm entailed, and eventually I couldn’t wait to get away from it. Looking back though, I wouldn’t trade that experience for any other in the whole world, but neither would I choose to go back. Here’s another story from a favorite uncle of mine, now deceased, originally published in Florida’s Free Press on November 13, 1986.
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I was visiting in my daughter’s home a few weeks ago when my grandson took me into his bedroom to show me his new twelve gauge automatic shotgun. He said, “Papa, I want to come visit you one weekend and go quail hunting.” My memory went back to the days when I was a boy on the farm with my father, mother, and eight brothers.
We learned to work hard at an early age, but we also learned to do many other things. One thing I remember I learned was how to make a quail trap. We would take short pieces of boards and put them together much like a chicken coop and make the trap. Then we would take it into the field of woods where we had seen a covey of quail. The trap was set with wooden treadles and baited with corn or some other kind of grain. Many times we would catch five or six birds at one time.
My other brothers could make better traps and catch more birds than I could. I remember how my brothers would catch a covey of quail and put them in their shirts to bring them home. I would watch those birds flutter around their bodies inside my brothers’ shirts and say to myself, “Someday I will catch lots of birds and bring them home in my shirt just like my big brothers.”
One day we were hoeing corn in a field near where my bird trap was set. I worked very slowly until I was far enough behind the others that I would not be missed, and then I slipped away to my bird trap. Not only had I caught some quails, I had caught the whole covey.
Slowly and very carefully I took them out one at a time and placed them into my shirt. Now the only thing wrong was, I was wearing overalls and the birds could slip down and get out of my overall’s leg. I was very careful and held one hand around my waist, went back to the field, and tried to hoe in this manner so the birds would not slip down and get away.
My father was a very stern man who did not want us to stop hoeing for any reason short of illness. As he passed me on another row going the other way, he asked “Where have you been?” “No where,” was my answer, as I kept trying to hoe and hold on to a covey of quail in my shirt at the same time.
Now my daddy had a habit of giving us a good boot in the seat of the pants when he nothing else handy. This time he said, “You are telling me a story” and gave me a good boot in the seat of the pants. At this I had to release my arm from around my waist, and the birds slipped down my pants leg and flew out with a fluttering noise. When my father saw birds fly out of my pants after he had booted me, no use telling you I’m sure, but he jumped back, frightened at the commotion.
When my eight brothers and I get together now, and begin to tell the tales of the things that happened to us as boys on the farm, they always remember the day my daddy kicked the birds out of my pants.
Postscript: For much of my life, people around our countryside looked on my grandfather as a very stern and hard man who worked his children as hard as he worked his animals. He was quick to anger, and just as quick to thrash any one of the boys he perceived as having done wrong.
My father was just 17 when he and my mother, who was an older woman of 18 and lived in the next county over, ran away and got married the day before July 4th. Eventually, the different sets of parents forgave them, and they moved into a shanty deep in the woods not far from where Grandpa and Grandma lived beside a county highway. His brothers were pretty much left for awhile to take on the brunt of the work he would have done had he been around, and some of them were still very young. My grandmother and my mother were having children around the same time.
So my remaining uncles are only a few years older than my one living brother, who’s eight years my senior. The writer of this quail story was probably not much older than 6 or 7 years old when this incident took place. I love the picture of a small child with overalls, no doubt hand-me-downs and too big to boot, with birds flying out of the pants legs. For all the hard work and sometimes ill treatment, none of the boys to my knowledge ever felt anything less than love and admiration for their father.